Women’s Education

Once at a United Nation assembly in 2009, Mr. President, Barack Obama said, “The future must not belong to those who bully women — it must be shaped by girls who go to school, and those who stand for a world where our daughters can live their dreams just like our sons” (White House 4). This was and still is, a sad but true situation all over the world even now. Women’s education in local history parallels with  national history because both included extreme gender inequality, which united women throughout the world and led to better schooling and treatment of women.

Some of the biggest obstacles facing  women’s education include poverty, pregnancy, violence, marriage, and most of all, discriminatory gender norms which keep girls out of school (Williams 2). In fact thirty-one million girls are out of school and 66.6% of iliterate individual are women (1).

In an interview conducted with Judy Perry, a local Librarian and school

teacher said that she had experienced inequality both during her childhood and the workplace even after she had received a college education. When she was younger, she remembered her teachers not expecting girls to be good at any STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. For girls the standard was lower due to an ignorant idea that women were the weaker, lesser, dumber sex. When she was older she found it hard to find a job that she wanted as many positions she looked into were geared towards single men. In fact, when she was interviewed for her very first job, she was asked whether or not she was planning to become pregnant at any time in the near future. Employers would often use this against women in the workplace. Women who were even considering having children in the upcoming years were not hired and sometimes laid off. It was the common opinion at that time, that a woman’s job was to take care of her husband and her children. Any woman who wanted kids was clearly not committed to her career and could not be trusted to handle the responsibility of both work and family (Perry).

Later in the interview, Mrs Perry mentioned her recent successes. She first worked as a librarian at Keene High School, and later as a teacher at Keene State College. She was put in charge of selecting candidates to receive a large scholarship put in place to give women in rough situations a chance to become educated. After seeing discrimination for so many years, Mrs. Perry said she felt extremely proud to be offering this special scholarship (Perry).

Women’s education in America was not always as equal as it is today. Women were seen as inferior in all ways especially academics. The belief that women were inferior to men stemmed mostly from Puritanical New England (Deering 1). Women were not allowed to buy or sell land, they had no say in governmental decisions, and they were not even permitted to file for a divorce. The Puritan lifestyle originated from the thought that the church of England needed to be purified (2). This strict sect of Christianity followed the mindset that Eve was the route of all sin and evil and therefore women should not be treated as equals, but rather like children with no rights or respect. They didn’t feel the need to educate females because they believed that girls were only useful as childbearing servants (4). In New England, girls could only attend “dame school” which was almost the equivalent of kindergarten, while boys were groomed to attend town school where they would learn how to read, write and do arithmetic. In such schools a girl could learn her ABC’s and how to go about her daily chores such as sewing, knitting, and sweeping (Museum 5). In New England, all but a few towns specifically excluded girls from the entire schooling system. When a few states including New Hampshire finally did admit girls into the town schools, they were only permitted to attend during the summer or on holidays so that they would not distract the boys from their education (Madigan 11). Women were not educated due to the misperception that women were flighty, irresponsible, and only useful to serve their husband and provide children. Women were seen as the lesser sex and were therefore not worth the time and effort it would take to educate them. Eventually, this would lead to the building of the first women’s colleges in America including Georgia Female College, Mount Holyoke Seminary, and Elmira Female College (12).

The 20th century was a time of immense progress in women’s education. Awareness for the issue was greatly improved during this time. Many new “girl schools” opened due to the high demand for women’s education. This demand was brought to light by industrialism where women proved to themselves and their husbands that they could work just as hard. Another factor that drove women to demand equal education was the recent rise of the suffrage movement. In 1918 Beatrice Chambers founded a progressive school for girls named Maltman’s Green (Museum 2). Built in a victorian-style mansion from the 1700’s, the school was new and exciting for girls looking to further their education. In its beginning years the school did not grade their students or even require them to attend every lesson. Along with academia, Maltman’s Green taught girls pottery, carpentry, and other skills formerly known as “masculine” activities (Walton 1). It was a fairly new idea that girls should be afforded the same extracurricular activities, but Mrs. Chambers made a point to include a choir, soccer team, and many other after-school activities.

Publicity was a great tool in informing the public of the injustice against women and even help the movement forward. In 1973 Nancy Frazier and Myra Sadker published their book,“Sexism in Schools and Society”.  Then in 1996 the Virginia Military Institute was forced by the Supreme Court to admit women (ActionAid 1). This progress worked like a domino effect, pressuring other colleges to admit women and paving the way for female activists to write books of their own.

There are many laws trying to secure women’s right to education. Some of these include: the Convention on the elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights; All of which guarantee a woman’s right to education and ensure that they are not discriminated against (Williams 2). UNESCO or, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has made great efforts to raise awareness for the inequality of education in developing counties by holding seminars and traveling to local schools and conventions. There is even a separate, specialized branch, the Coalition of Human Rights Organizations, New England, which encourages equality in education and global outreach (Williams 2).

New England eventually made great progress with education in the late 1900’s by opening more co-ed elementary and high schools. Then in 2005 Annabel Beerel, a board director at Southern New Hampshire University, received a report document the extreme inequities of women regarding both pay and schooling. This inspired her to found the New England Women’s Leadership Institute. The first convention hosted by NEWLI in four years later, in 2009, included Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts as a keynote speaker and turned out to be a great success. Female entrepreneurship and women in management positions were discussed but, the encouragement of STEM career topics being taught to girls was one of the more revolutionary topics included in the seminars (Beerel 1). In the years to come many more conventions and retreats were planned, each one topping the next. The featured speakers included Gloria Steinem, Erin Brockovich, Fawn Germer, Barbara Corcoran and Jessica Jackley (2). National Education for Women’s Leadership New England often hosts a five day event specifically for undergraduate women in the New Hampshire area. This event is usually hosted at NHIP,  New Hampshire Institute of Politics, on the campus of Saint Anselm College. The goal of the program is to give women the confidence and leadership skills to become leaders in business and politics.The itinerary includes workshops for public speaking and networking, and even includes the incorporation of local celebrities (Lucas 1).

Looking back at puritanical America, it is quite clear that both the world and the small state of New Hampshire have made great strides to ensure equal education for both women and men. Even in the past 50 years, huge leaps of progress have been made towards gender equality, especially in schooling. After years of inequality women are finally gaining access to their fundamental right to education and thriving in this setting. Through co-ed public schools and colleges, specialized training programs, and new policies legislation, the United States as a country, has greatly improved in regards to the education of women.

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